Trade Unions in India’s Coal Sector goes on Strike  

In what is being touted as one of the biggest industrial action in the last four decades, more than half a million workers of India’s coal sector has gone on a strike in India. Coal India Limited (CIL) has 3.5 lakh permanent workers and 50,000 contract workers, while Singareni Collieries, a subsidiary of CIL has 1.5 lakh permanent and 30,000 contract workers’. Nearly 95% of the workers of both companies were participating in the strike. Five Central Trade Union Organizations-namely AITUC, BMS, CITU, HMS and INTUC are jointly leading the strike.

The unions are protesting against the government’s decision of disinvesting in Coal India Limited (CIL)-India’s largest company in the coal sector. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, on 10th of September, 2014, had approved the disinvestment of 10 percent paid-up equity capital in Coal India Ltd. (CIL) out of the Government of India’s shareholding of 89.65 percent. The decision to disinvest would help the Government to realize an optimum price for the offer for sale of 10 percent of the Government’s shareholding in the company.

The coal miner’s are opposed to the government’s decision and believe that it would steadily lead towards privatization of Coal India Limited, which will have profound impact on their work conditions, wages and their livelihood as a whole. Workers are agitating against permission for merchant mining and sale of coal in the open market, which was included as an enabling clause in the recent ordinance to auction coal mines. They say such mines, which do not pay minimum wages or ensure workers’ social welfare, will be able to sell coal cheaper and make Coal India’s produce expensive in comparison. They are also demanding a reduction of weekly workdays from six to five, each of seven hours, social security for all workers including contract workers, compensation for land losers and peripheral development in mining areas.

The authorized capital of the CIL is Rs. 8904.18 crore (Rs. 904.18 crore of non-cumulative 10 percent redeemable preference shares plus Rs. 8000 crore of equity shares) of which the issued and subscribed equity capital as on 31.03.2014 is Rs 6316.36 crore. The President of India holds 89.65 percent of the paid up capital in CIL. In accordance with the Government of India’s disinvestment policy, the Government has decided to disinvestment 10 percent equity of CIL out of its holding of 89.65 percent as per the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) Rules and Regulations. After this disinvestment, the Government of India’s holding in the company would come down to 79.65 percent. Further it was estimated that at current market prices, the sale of shares could garner over Rs. 23,000 crore in the company.

The Unions warned that the strike starting Tuesday (6th of January, 2015) till the 10th of January would only be the first phase of the strike and many others will follow, if the denationalization agenda is not reversed. Moreover, the unions have also warned the government that any use of force against the striking workers would mean “permanent damage to hitherto cordial and harmonious industrial relations, peace and tranquility in the coal mining areas.

Other demands of the workers include, include Withdrawal of the Coal Mines Ordinance and subsequent Coal Mines Bill, Regularization of precarious workers and Protection of service conditions upon transfer

It is also to be noted that the government had cleared for 5% dilution in oil production major ONGC and 11.36% in power company NHPC.

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Impact on Workers

Every time a strike or any form of industrial action takes places, the general population, see the workers as the one perpetuating it. Thus, it becomes imperative to highlight the impact strikes have on workers too. To highlight a few:-

  • A coal India Limited miner earns about 30,000 Indian rupees per month, while the same worker under contract in a private entity earns only around 7000-10000 Indian rupees. Thus the current move to disinvest would mean the workers losing their jobs and hitherto the wages they draw.
  • On an average, a worker/miner is losing about 2000 INR each day by participating in their strike. But still they participate as not opposing the move to disinvest would mean further harm.
  • Thus, sooner the strike gets over with a political decision being made, would benefit both the government and the workers.

(Picture clicked by the author in Odisha in June, 2010, during one of his trips while conducting a study on the ‘Peoples movements’ against mines in Odisha)

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